“All the physical movement is to give her a change so she can own the responsibility for what she wants.”
How does changing how you move affect the rest of your life? Movement is movement and the rest of your life is the rest of your life. Nothing more to see here, right?
Part of me wants to go epic and deep, to talk about the nature of matter, of our existence as movement – the vibration and movement of atoms, the space between parts of molecules, the matter of our cells. As fascinating as the nature of matter is, it failed my Mom test – the practical, simple explanation I would use to tell my Mom about this. (Thanks to Rob Fitzpatrick for the concept from his book, The Mom Test).
“All the physical movement is to give her a change so she can own the responsibility for what she wants.”
This statement came from a teacher and mentor of mine, Candy Conino, in the discussion of a client case – some of my peers and I gather once a week to discuss questions from our practice which gives us a rich learning environment to build our professional competence and confidence.
In the search for a practical, simple explanation of the what this means – “All the physical movement is to give her a change so she can own the responsibility for what she wants” – it comes down to this.
We can lose ourselves in our unconscious habits. We need our habits – try brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand – to know how much attention this basic hygiene task takes without your habitual movement. But habits can become a trap.
One way that our unconscious habits can become mal-adaptive behaviors is when something important in our environment shifts. A partner becomes seriously ill or dies. You have a serious accident or life event that changes how you get through each day. We can do what we have always done and it doesn’t quite work anymore. Or we can change but what we do now doesn’t feel quite right and we create a story that explains what is missing now that our partner is gone or our ability to run or walk is altered. We create our story of coping. And we cope. That’s how we survive past the hard parts of life.
One kind of coping is to dive hard into an unconscious habit that feels like a save.
Let’s imagine Lidia’s journey – when Lidia’s partner dies, after an initial grieving period, one possible move is for Lidia to dive into activity – all of the classes, experiences, trips – everything that might have been on hold due to her partner’s poor health or just her unexpressed dreams for what she wanted but didn’t do. And in that flurry of activity, Lidia sustains an injury, some physical way of breaking down.
She did too much, we say, her body wasn’t able to keep up with all this intense activity. But more than volume, frequency or intensity of activity, we can also take the measure of the compulsive nature of what Lidia dives into – a way of coping that leads her away from herself.
What somatic coaching can help Lidia do is to bring her movement and her movement habits into conscious awareness so she can choose both how she moves and who she is in this new environment. Unconscious coping creates a compelling and frustrating experience – while doing it you can lose yourself in the coping activity and at some point, Lidia comes back to herself. And faces the frustration, the longing, the grief, the fear of what she is adapting to. And the limits of how she is coping. Time to dive back in.
Somatic coaching can help Lidia listen to herself, her body and how she is functioning in her environment now and know herself – not through a story of who she was or is now, or the way she is coping to save herself, but in a concrete way right now.
The practical, simple explanation I would tell my Mom is by helping Lidia become conscious of how she moves, she can choose what to do now because she can feel herself as she moves now. And her conscious choice is how she creates the person she can be, with each move, in every day.
Interested in learning more? Book a free 15 minute call with Cheryl. No sales pressure, just a caring conversation about what you are looking for and what I can offer. https://www.kindpower.ca/book/
Ready to start? Book a 45 minute somatic assessment session. Then based on what we discover together, I will make a recommendation for what can support you. https://www.kindpower.ca/book/
What do coaches do? Help you to perform better, to move better – in soccer, baseball, in leadership, as entrepreneurs – to help you improve how you perform whatever field you play on.
Isn’t somatic coaching basically the same thing? It can be. To respond to how it is different, I need to take you on a little journey. It starts simply. With nouns and verbs.
What nouns do you know yourself to be? Son or daughter. Wife, husband, mother, father. Department manager, business owner. Collector. Cyclist. Citizen. Neighbor. What is the rate of change in the nouns you know apply to you? Do they change daily? Monthly?
Are you more or less a wife or a neighbor between January and March? Maybe you are a cyclist between April and November but not December to March. We rely on nouns as the foundation for our stories about who we are, the building blocks of our identity.
To be or not to be….what verb am I?
What verbs do you know yourself to be? Notice if this question doesn’t make sense. As a teacher, I do several verbs regularly. Explain. Ask. Listen. Question. Search. Demonstrate. Gesture. We tend not to associate as easily with the verbs we do. I am a teacher and a coach. I tend not to say, I question, listen, lead, allow struggle, support learning, offer feedback.
How does this relate to somatic coaching and improving performance? Where do you think improvement happens – in the nouns or in the verbs?
Karlene’s verb is burst
Let’s work through this question with an individual. Let’s call her Karlene. Karlene is several nouns, a leader, a mother, a change-maker. And one of the verbs that Karlene does is bursting through – traditions that no longer serve, outdated policies, inequities. She is able to both have people feel she cares about them and she can burst their balloon, so that the changes that are called to happen have the space to happen. Her body is organized around bursting barriers. So parts of her are in pain – one shoulder, side of neck, hip – the side of her most often applied to bursting barriers.
So as a somatic coach, I could just work with her physical pain and that would help. I could just work with her biomechanical movement and help her to move better so she can function better. But without changing her verbs, in this case, the way she is organize to burst in, to burst through, any new change will fall under the weight of this verb, this bursting way of being.
As a somatic coach, I help people like Karlene discover their personal verbs, the way they do what they do, to feel it in their tissues. And create a way of moving that makes it more likely they will stop verbing towards pain and start verbing towards more wellness. Towards more wholeness. To simply being successfully them – complete. Capable. Less striving to be and more being.
Somatic Coaching is what and how you move as you
So simply put, somatic coaching is concerned with both what you move and how you move. And supporting you to decode your own mysterious black box of “Me” so you can become functional in your body as you. Less about the nouns. More about the verbs.
Interested in learning more? You can:
Sign up for a free 15-minute call to talk about your human condition. No sales pressure, just a caring conversation about what you are looking for and what I can offer. Book now https://www.kindpower.ca/book/
If you are ready to start, we begin with a 45-minute assessment (in person or online). Then based on what we discover together, I make a recommendation for what can support you. https://www.kindpower.ca/book/
While individual somatic coaching programs vary – this is not a one and done change effort. Depending on what a client wants and needs, I tend to recommend 6-10 sessions so we can do more than just identify a personal pattern; we can anchor securely the changes that support my clients to hold their goal with their own hands and know they can achieve it. If you are already working for your success – it can be good to have someone to give you a hand up.
I realize that I have almost always picked work that requires me to learn on the job. Coming from a family with a high number of teachers, grandmother, cousins, aunt, I grew up in an environment where the value of learning was infused in the air. Growing up in my farming family, my earliest school room was the freedom to play outside as long as I was home for dinner.
It is no surprise to me that one of the people who influences my learning now is David Abram, an ecologist, philosopher and an accomplished slight of hand magician. What I most want to share from his first book, The Spell of the Sensuous, is his ideas about word magic and how our language affects how we participate in what we sense.
My early outdoor expeditions in the shelter belt of farms in southern Alberta (the double row of trees surrounding the house and outbuildings) were wordless ones, shared with a black Labrador dog, sometimes a sister. The smell of sticky poplar leaves on a warm spring afternoon, attaching anywhere I pressed close enough. The sound and vibration of weighted wheat stalks tossing above my head to the persistent southwest wind, framing the autumnal blue sky. These words may evoke the memory of what I sensed but it is not the same as the sense memory awakened when I smell poplar trees again or pause to listen to the swaying of a soon-to-be harvested wheat field.
The word magic he writes about is a simple sleight of tongue that hides what is right there in front of us. When we speak about touching the cat, about smelling the paperwhite blooms, about listening to the wind in the branches above the path – there is a word magic in “the”. That small word renders for us a notion that the being we sense is an object. Abram says, “To define another being as an inert or passive object is to deny its ability to actively engage us and to provoke our senses; we block our perceptual reciprocity with that being.”
Why does this matter? It is grammatically accurate – a cat is a noun; the tree is a noun. More word magic. This construct shines a light on us as the sensing being and everything else as the thing being sensed. It closes down what feels like real magic, that anything we touch, touches us back. That anything we inhale, also shares the air. That anything we hear, also feels our vibration as we walk by. Abram says, “perception always remains vulnerable to the decisive influence of language.”
Word magic can magnify suffering.
In working with clients, I notice the impact of this word magic on their lives, as part of suffering that comes with pain. Because one of the habits so many of us have learned, is to apply that objectifying language to ourselves. The leg. The neck. If one of the superpowers of the Feldenkrais Method is making finer and finer distinctions as part of learning, this tiny distinction is a root of self-domination, the place where I try to control my leg to do what I want. Without listening to my leg as a living being. This small distancing in our self-perception, keeps us apart from ourselves. There is magic in claiming relationship with all of the parts of myself. It doesn’t just change me, it changes the world I move in – how all of me can be part of all of we, living here. Rather than part of me trying to control all of it, out there. Expanded outwards, that small distinction makes all the difference. Please share this with someone you feel would enjoy it.
If this resonates with you, you might enjoy my upcoming In Touch series – starting Feb 4.
Social Distancing is the term used to describe staying away from people and microbial residue (or as our Prime Minister called it, “moist breath”) that people leave behind when touching objects. Pre-pandemic, MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research conducted an experiment with forty people who sat in a windowless room alone for ten hours. In another experiment this group was constrained to a ten-hour day of fasting. In the first experiment, they reported a craving for social contact; in the second, a craving for food. In both experiments, their brain images showed a similar “craving signal” after both the social and nutritional deprivation experiences. We are all in this life experiment, managing our cravings one way or another.
The pandemic is shining a harsh light on privilege in a way that we don’t sometimes look at – the haves and the have nots in terms of social isolation. In Canada, the number of people living alone has more than doubled to 4 million people in 2016 and has grown fastest for adults aged 35-64. So, this post is speaking to people without the privilege of touch as a regular part of your healthy life style. (A big nod to everyone living and working in a family bubble – working, parenting and schooling from home is mega-challenging too!)
Coping with a craving, an itch that we can’t really scratch to satisfaction is a life constraint. One of the things I am coming to apply more broadly from my Feldenkrais practice is how to get curious and creative when facing a constraint in how I move through life. To cope with my own physical isolation, I have turned to touch as a way to not feel alone. The difference that makes a difference to feel connected through touch is conscious touch – where I both am consciously contacting the cat or the coffee mug and where I am filled with awareness. It is an inside/outside affair of awareness.
To get a sense of what I mean, try this movement experiment.
Reach for an object, like a cup. As you touch it, do you notice when you could feel the first point of contact? Can you slow down and try it again?
This time, put your awareness into remembering what you had for breakfast and reach for the cup. How is that different?
Finally, reach for the cup as if it contains the most delicious cup of coffee, your first cup of coffee. Does your desire for the contents enhance or diminish your sense of touching the cup?
In my life experiment to find a sense of connection through touch, I notice that I self-isolate daily, when I touch without awareness. Conscious touch is a gateway to know how interdependent we are with others and with our environment. When we bring ourselves more wholly into what and who we touch, we have an opportunity to feel ourselves at the center of everything. The connections are already there, we just have to find them.
There is no substitute for physical touch, connection with others. There is a wholeness we can tap into when we shift from absent-minded touch to present-minded touch.
If this learning expedition appeals to you, consider joining me for my upcoming In Touch Series. This 6-session series will explore using our senses to functionally connect with ourselves (our internal sensitivity to sensations and feelings or interoception), with our environments (our ability to perceive our position in space or proprioception) and with each other (listening through touch). Unconscious touch internally can create habits that keep us separate from our own experience (have you ever moved from one room to another with no conscious idea of how you got there?) and can keep us self-isolated from our world. We will contrast the state of being “absent-minded” in movement with being “present-minded”, learning about your own unique habits of mind that take you out of the moment now.
You can register for the series or drop-in for each class.
After feeling numb, feeling more whole can be confusing.
When I write these postings, I share less about my own Feldenkrais practice, not because I don’t find it interesting, but because there can be a kind of daily grind of working with my own self image/body patterns that I am motivated to work with but don’t really want to talk about all the time. That kind of, there I am again, doing me sort of thing. I tend to feel a kind of odd appreciation for how persistent some of my personal coping patterns can be. But last week, the left side of my back woke up.
When I started my personal Feldenkrais journey with local practitioner Tim Rose, I became aware that I had very little sense of myself on my left side, my ribs, shoulder blade, abdomen. That I could sit and sense these things on my right side but my left side was a big blank. I could imagine symmetry, like projecting a skeleton onto my body but I didn’t actually feel any semblance of symmetry. When we came to this realization together, he gently asked me, “How are you now that you know that?” I think he expected me to be upset, unsettled. Instead, I got a glimmer of the kind of body/mind geek I really am. I was fascinated! It explained my uneven performance in aikido. I would learn a technique, really get a good feel for it on my right side and then it was like nothing transferred to my left side – I had to learn it all again.
What do I mean when I say the left side of my back woke up? Simply speaking, I don’t have to imagine my left side, I can just feel it. Not as fully as my right side but I can sense details, like the expansion between ribs when I breathe. Like details of how I bend from side to side. I feel different walking down the street, feeling the ground through each step but on both sides now.
And for a few days, it was really confusing to feel this, like I had an extra shirt wrapped only on my left side – lots of sensation where I was used to not having any. And how I moved started to shift a little. I have a past injury in my right hip and lower back so live with stiffness and less range of motion in my right hip joint than in my left. Typically, I don’t feel it much unless I am doing some deep lunging steps during aikido training. Well, that old injury woke up too!
After feeling absence, feeling more was like walking around in a sensory bombardment, sometimes painful, sometimes pleasurable and very unfamiliar. I had learned how to walk around with half of my back online. All of the actual connections have always been there, but I was unplugged from myself.
What is a girl to do when her back wakes up? Not really sure but what I did do was keeping moving, keeping noticing. And dance in my kitchen.
I am working through a repertoire of Awareness through Movement lessons each week and practice (near) daily internal martial arts practices, so I brought this new, confusing back of mine into those activities. To do the daily grind of awareness in my movement, noticing how this new jolt of awareness was creating new patterns of movement. To get familiar with this development in my body/mind connection. To see what becomes of me.
At a recent online aikido workshop, a teacher who I respect and love, Mary Heiny Sensei said, “The connections are there. You just have to find them.” When I ask myself why is this kind of work important, my honest answer is, “I don’t like living with limits when I don’t have to.” When I live with my back half asleep, I am limited to what I can do. I have the overuse injury on my right side to show for it. The tantrum in my right hip continues for now and I keep moving. And noticing.
I hope that in 2021, parts of you that feel absent or not filled in start to come to life, start to move as part of you again. The connections are there. You just have to find them.
Why did I start training to become a
Working with people in their bodies, I intuit people want an answer something like this: I have been interested in body-based practices for years – Martial arts like karate, Tai Chi and aikido, Pilates, gym workouts and physical hobbies like kayaking, hiking, swimming, walking. So I wanted to become an embodiment professional. That is partially right.
I want to age well and wisely. Movement is part of that life plan. Feldenkrais writes in Awareness through
Movement, “The ability to move is important to self-value.” As I age, this becomes more and more apparent
– my choices to move and explore what I can do physically feels like a choice
to value myself, a vote to become a rocking, lively older adult. I don’t seek a fountain of youth; I do practice
what brings a fountain of vitality.
What is truer is this – I love learning. I read voraciously as a child, I learned well
in school, learned to play musical instruments, learned languages, learned my
way through a Master’s degree in Education, learned software programs, learned
about human development, learned to become a coach, I could continue this
list. I remember walking through fields
as a child – forays through nature surrounding me – learning here included my
senses, smelling, touching everything and listening to the wind through the
Feldenkrais is primarily a learning
method. Moshe Feldenkrais chose movement
as a medium for learning because of the immediacy of the feedback loop from
brain to body. Improvement in motor pathways, the connection from senses to
nervous system to brain to nervous system to muscles can show up quickly. He wrote in The Elusive Obvious, “Organic learning is essential,…,slow and
unconcerned with any judgement as to the achievement of good or bad
results. Organic learning is individual,
and without a teacher who is striving for results within a certain time, it
lasts as long as the learner keeps at it.”
This is the baby, the toddler who learns
everything through play, persistent attempts, only taking in feedback on what
functions more or less well.
What is our purpose, our goals when we
I started with a new student this week in my
latest offering, Learn to Fall Well. At
one point during our first lesson she said, “This is like the opposite of going
to the gym.” She is active, doing
several activities every week. She is
aware of herself and the movements she knows.
In the lesson, I asked her to do movement that was different from what
she typically does in her workout classes. I asked her to attend to strange moments and
relationships, “Notice the moment when moving your R leg that your left leg is
called to follow.” Or “Notice the point
of no return, when to go further means you fall onto your right side.” I am not asking her to roll side to side 30
times, although we probably got to that number of repetitions by the end of the
assumptions do we carry when we exercise?
How do we improve our performance?
In sports performance, athletes strive to improve skill, strength,
endurance and recovery. In this context, exercise strives for an outcome. I can do 50 lunges, I can play a whole game
of soccer. I can shoot accurately from a
certain distance on the net. I am
strengthening my muscles, maintaining my bone density, improving my
teaching at Amherst, Feldenkrais talked about exercising and learning. He asked
and answered: “[Do] You know the difference between exercising and learning?
[Exercising] means that you know the final result, what you want, and you keep
on doing until you obtain it”. Learning,
as defined by Feldenkrais, is a process, an inquiry into the quality of
movement, into possibilities for how to move that supports how to function in the
happens when you discover something you didn’t already know.
jump to the assumption that I am for Feldenkrais over exercise or vice versa, what
I am more interested in is how they are related to each other. How do
we improve our performance, our capacity to move? How do we move towards
mastery? What is of interest to me, is when people decide to stop learning,
when we decide we have mastered sufficient skills to obtain our objective.
satisfies you when you exercise?
Moti Nativ, a martial arts instructor and
Feldenkrais teacher brings a lovely way to situate the relationship between
learning, exercising and training.
In the context of a martial arts class,
learning is often acquiring a technique, learning it until she/he has learned
to perform it. In my experience in
aikido, I often watch, mimic, make errors and through several attempts come to
approximate the technique I am being taught.
This is a kind of outside-in learning process – seeing a movement, being
shown a movement by a teacher or trainer and attempting to replicate the
When do I own the movement? When can I say
I have learned it? When is my task of learning the technique completed? In many learning contexts, the teacher has
the say for when a student has learned a movement. In this context, exercise then is repeating
what I have learned, until I can perform it competently with confidence, accuracy
and speed based on a teacher, a coach’s feedback.
When I have exercised enough? When is my performance of a technique good
I can stop when I reach my goal – 50 lunges
per day, enough stamina to run through a soccer game, adequate precision,
strength and control to shoot accurately at the net. If it
is true today, I can assume it will be true in future games, in future
workouts, yes? No. The problem with holding exercise in this way,
is that we can assume success in one set of conditions will predict success for
us in another set of conditions.
Moti distinguishes exercise from
training. This is another level of
exercise – performing the technique in
demanding conditions, in a more challenging and stressful environment. Under attack from a partner, in the presence
of a player on the defensive team, on uneven surfaces. In training when is my performance good
enough? When I can perform the movement,
the technique when challenged by my environment, the conditions?
In Feldenkrais, exercise means using my
awareness, attending to my inner and outer sense of movement, of myself as I
interact with my environment. Exercise
means attending to the process of the movement, not the goal. How smoothly can I move? Where do I encounter resistance, restrictions
in my movement? How can I find a
possible, even easy way to carry out a movement? How much of all of me can I attend to while
doing the movement? Can I attend to
something in my environment and within myself at the same time?
One way to talk about what this difference
is about is by looking at the question, “How do we build our capacity for
quality movement?” Exercise would answer
– by repeating movements, sequences of movements so I can perform competently,
with confidence, with accuracy, with speed.
Training would answer – by
challenging performance of our movement in more difficult, more variable
conditions. Feldenkrais would respond by
increasing the precision and consciousness of what I am doing, the ways I can
move, exploring options for functional movement, finding ways to distribute
work across more of myself. I can become more functional because I know
more ways to move, know more about how I can move, know more about how I work
in different positions, different conditions.
At the end of one of our lessons exploring
how to move from a chair to the floor and back again, my student said, “I feel
lighter when I keep my head down.” I
could have had my student repeat a sequence of movements, created an exercise
for getting down to the floor and back to the chair. But I would have robbed her of this
discovery, this way to find and own for herself a better way to move herself. This was her process of learning, using her
senses, using her own experience. I am
in it, this Feldenkrais gig, to create the opportunity to learn.
By finding a way to use the weight of her
pelvis and her head in better relationship, she changed the perceived work of
lifting herself up onto the chair and down to the floor. We explored one better way to move from the
chair to the floor and back again. We
could explore other ways as the medium to develop her capacity to discover and
move for herself.
As an older person, I could ask her to
repeat exercises to build leg strength, to maintain flexibility so she could
get up from the ground after falling. In
working in this way, in this Awareness through Movement way, I also supported
her to build her capacity to find the answer for herself.
I am becoming a Feldenkrais teacher to support people
to build their capacity to find the answers for themselves. Through
movement. Through their bodies. It’s one of the ways to support people to
become more whole, more resourceful.
What is something you don’t miss, until it is gone? One of my favorite lines from an old movie,
The Paper, has Marissa Tomei sneezing as the very pregnant wife of the
newspaper editor in the movie and say, “You don’t appreciate bladder control
until it is gone”.
Balance is like that – we know it most when we lose it. Physical, emotional, life balance – we feel
the lack of it as we lose it or when we end up on the literal or metaphorical
Balance is immediate – we know when we have it and we know
when we don’t.
Balance is intangible – what it actually is, how it is
affected, what supports it is a little more elusive.
What feels like balance within you? In your life? What do you do when unbalanced?
What restores your sense of balance?
How we experience balance and the loss of balance can show
up in different forms. I could feel more
unsure, move in more tentative ways. I
can lose trust in myself and may shrink from some activities. I can feel diminished, feeling the old in my
aging process. I can feel afraid,
bracing against what might come.
I lost my balance once buying corn at a road side
stand. I stepped back from the counter,
connecting my calf with the wooden brace extending out of the front of the
stand. In one moment, I was buying corn
and in the next moment, I was falling backward.
I felt a sense of control, then felt out of control. I was falling before I could think I was
How we look at balance yields a view into what it is and how
we can inhabit ourselves with a sense of balance.
Alan Questel says, “When we lose or regain our balance it is
mostly recognized through how we move.
We move as a result of our intentions.
When we are unable to fulfill our intentions, it may show up as a loss
of balance.” We have an intimate, often unconscious
relationship between our intentions and our actions.
Have you had the experience of fumbling with your keys, to orient your key into the lock? This small struggle moment is when intention and action are not relating well. When I want to get through the door and I fumble with my keys, my intention does not include the process of lining up my key, of inserting it in the lock and turning the lock to release the door.
I am focused on the goal of getting into my house, getting
on with it so I skip over my intention in the act of unlocking. And depending on how many re-usable shopping
bags or weapons bags I am holding, I swear a little!
So how do we find the way to fulfill our intention when we
We use two personal resources, perception and manipulation, to fit intention to action. We tend to focus on manipulation as the skill that needs improving. I find how we use our perception is more often the initiator of the problem.
How well, how accurately, how precisely am I perceiving what is in front of me? Am I using an existing mental model of the lock in the door to guide my movement? Or am I having a full, unfettered experience to perceive what is there – my key, the lock so I am set up to do the manipulation needed.
What perceptual hygiene might be called for to clear away
what is getting in the way? Am I absorbed with a rumination about a conversation? Am I drunk?
Am I absorbed in thinking about what I will do next? Am I
sucked into the sensations of an exhausted body budget?
Try this out – put your key into your lock but see how it
would be possible to slide the tip of the key precisely into the slot of the
lock without tapping, without bumping the key tip on the outer rim of the
lock? What kind of attention would you
need to bring to make a clean insertion? How slow or how quickly would you need
So part of inhabiting a sense of balance can be expressed as a harmonious relationship between intention and action.
To return to my unbalanced corn buying story, I intended to back away from the stall and encountered an obstacle. My balance was broken. I didn’t intend to back into the wooden brace so there is another piece to looking at balance – how we interact with our environment.
Why is unlocking the door important? Our environment determines how we act in the
world. What about choice? Free will?
I could leave my door unlocked,
removing this need to unlock it. But I
don’t, because I live in a neighborhood with a steady stream of people in my
back alley looking for bottles and sometimes the opportunity for something
more. So I engage in this ritual to lock
my door that feeds my sense of feeling secure. Growing up on a farm, we never
locked our door, because a neighbor might need something when we were not at
home. Different environments, different
What creates balance walking up and down stairs? Do you look down at each stair as you step? Do you look straight ahead? Going down stairs, we often look down, literally rounding down to cope with the felt sense of risk while descending. Stepping down stairs feels less risky than walking down a muddy or icy slope.
A friend shared her experience of slipping down a muddy slope in a haunted house, losing her balance on the dark and unpredictable surface. How can we find balance when our environment gives us conditions that are not stable? What does it mean to have balance when we don’t know what is going to happen next? What if balance isn’t a state but a process, a response to each moment?
I admit I love watching parkour. For anyone who hasn’t seen parkour, here is a
This example includes high levels of athleticism but in its most basic form parkour is the practice of moving in your environment.
Playground environments are a familiar form of parkour – monkey bars, balance beams, climbing walls. Watching a child navigate a climbing structure, I see the same close attention, the regard for precisely what is possible for the next handhold or foothold, all within the comfortable range of his own reach, his body’s dimensions within the space.
In navigating uncertain surfaces, we fare better staying open, responsive to our environment. To brace, to become more rigid in reaction to fear of falling separates us from the information we could be receiving, the sense of the small ridge under your right foot, the slight slope down to the left. What if balance was the process of an unspoken, felt conversation between the person who moves and the environment she moves through? How well do we listen to our environment when we move?
An odd thing happened a couple of weeks ago. I spent a couple days checking my feet – it
felt like something was stuck to the bottom of my feet – I could feel something
there. Then I realized, I was simply
feeling more with my feet. When I opened
my awareness, I could feel the grain on the hardwood floor, feel the ridges on
the linoleum, feel the texture of the welcome mat to a degree I was not
conscious of before. I don’t have a
well-defined “why” for how this increase in sensitivity has come to be; I do
know that I have come into a better sense of balance by feeling more.
This leads me to focus on a third lens on balance – the
question of our structure.
Back to the corn stand.
I am falling backward, tripped over the wooden brace at the corn stand.
This story is memorable for me because of how I fell. Somehow, maybe in some kind of early whisper
of my aikido practice to come, I found a way to fold and roll gently onto my
back. I was surprised. The woman selling
corn was surprised. It just
happened. No time to think. What happened? Why didn’t I just fall backward, flat on the
The question for structure and balance is – can we regain
our balance once we have lost it, once it is compromised? And can we do something about our balance
before it is a problem?
Clearly, we need to go beyond an understanding of structure
as the form or the shape our feet, legs, hips that lets us be stable, to stand
without toppling. All of that is
important, but in order to live, to function fully, we need a structure that
can move and be balanced.
Falling is different from movement in its reversibility. When I step forward, I can choose to pause and step backward at any time during the movement. When I fall, I can’t reverse it. At the corn stand, I was going down. I have an opportunity though, to alter the process and direction of my movement as I fall. A stumble became a roll. I was able to move in the direction I was already going and change my action. Dynamic balance involves a responsiveness to the combination of intention, environment and manipulation of our structure, a kind of flow power to create moment by moment anew our intentions, our actions. We shut this flow down when we contract, when we brace against what the moment brings. When we inhabit ourselves with a sense of balance, we call out our capacity to adapt, adjust and find postures of support.
I live where it feels like, at this time of year, pretty far
north. This week I have watched leaves
start to turn colors, weather forecasts start to hint at near frost
temperatures, I daily contemplate the likelihood that my squashes will grow big
enough to be harvested before a hard frost.
Do I need to cover them tonight, prolonging my hope for a harvest?
Summer, typically, has been a time for integration for
me. A time to step away from the pace of
doing I commit to the rest of the year.
A time to sit in utter stillness in my kayak in the middle of a lake
with pelicans and gulls as my only companions.
A time to look into a fire in the cooling evening, letting everything
be. A time to pause, watch the sky under
the guise of reading on the back deck. A
time to allow. To let come.
I had a different kind of integration experience this
summer, a positive disruptive one. As
part of my May training with the Feldenkrais Training Academy, I had a
one-on-one Functional Integration lesson with Jeff Haller, our educational
director. Functional Integration is a
hands-on lesson, where the practitioner creates learning through touch. The situation I presented him – I am feeling
coordinated, well organized with good alignment – experiencing pleasurable
movement….on my left side only. My right
side was fighting like hell to not be that.
My right knee, hip, shoulder ached regularly. My right foot too. In my aikido training, I regularly have a
kind of Jekyll and Hyde experience – an aikido-like feeling on the left and an
awkward, shoving strength experience on the right. Jeff
asked me to do a basic move from aikido (shio-nage for my aikido audience) to
highlight for me how I was organizing myself differently on each side. Then he asked me to lie on the table and explored
through touch my body’s organization.
Ten minutes into the lesson I felt in some palpable way more like a
whole person. The how of this part of the lesson is still to be learned; the what of this part of the lesson is with
me still. Soon he easily had my right
leg swinging as if I were a skeleton, with no history of sciatica, no muscular
knots in my hip and buttock, no learned patterns to cope with pain, stiffness
and numbness. By the end of the hour, I
felt connected, balanced, and structurally whole – we repeated the aikido move
from the beginning of the lesson and Jeff told me, “When you are organized like
this, there will never be any openings”.
Structural strength and ease. Super
What interests me even more than the lesson, is the process
of integration that followed. I left the
training session in May with a new relationship with my right hip, with at
least two viable options for how to move it while I walk, how to stand, how to
shift my weight – my habitual way of moving and the more efficient way Jeff
taught me that allowed for lighter weight transfer, for quicker walking with
less effort, for greater stamina – walking uphill became almost easy, like I
had a new power source within me to just glide up the hill. But I was returned in a way to being like a
toddler – either pattern could show up. In the process of integration, I found that I
was becoming stiff and sore almost every time I moved from sitting to
standing. I played with options, how to
apply what I had learned so far to change my experience. (Because I am going to
make this better!) Some days I felt 20
years older each time I stood up. A
senior toddler – stiff, wobbly, a little confused about how to move from here. And
frustrated – – why was this happening to me?
How was this better? This integration process felt much more like
I tried several things with limited success – morning
exercises to stretch and open up the mobility in my hips – good for an hour or
two. I changed how I sat, focusing on
lengthening my legs, letting go of tension I held while sitting – this worked
better but it didn’t change the pattern from happening. I
found some ways to move that didn’t hurt; other parts continued to protest. I felt the pressure from an internalized,
societal idea – this is just what happens when you are over 50.
What I hadn’t tried is a core part of applying awareness to
my movement – slowing down to really sense what was happening in the movement
from sitting to standing, in the shifting of weight into my feet. I slowly came to study this moment in my
This August, my integration process was supported by another
one-on-one lesson, this time with Chrish Kresge. After presenting my current state, she
observed me and asked, “What are you over-using?” I didn’t know the answer until she
asked. “My knees.” She led me through a lesson that I was
familiar with about the movement from sitting to standing and brought together
the ways I was not quite yet integrated.
And it did come together, I came together. Wonderful.
What can I glean from this integration process to take into my life more broadly? A key harvest is the role of attention in being with my movement. I am fully conditioned to use my attention to determine my state of being – how does this feel? It hurts. If it hurts, how do I make this movement better? This kind of attention may be an expression of self-care, self-love, but expressed through a corrective kind of care. There is a subtle kind of limit I place on myself here by pursuing attention anchored to the agenda: how do I make my movement better? It’s the attachment I put on my curiosity – curiosity to know what is happening to “fix” myself compared to a free, unencumbered curiosity to know. This attachment changes my attention, changes my relationship with myself. A small difference but the impact on how I treat myself is powerful.
Let’s compare the two.
Closed form of curiosity:
Why do my knees hurt? What do I
need to do differently to make it better?
I could work on strengthening my thigh muscles, on opening the
flexibility of my ankle joints. I could
wear knee braces to keep my knees moving in good alignment.
Open form: What is happening when I stand such that my knees
hurt? What do I notice? I could notice the placement of my feet, the
direction my knees move coming to standing.
I could notice where my head is in relationship to my feet and knees,
what arc it makes. I could notice where
my eyes move, where the weight of my head is placed and the work needed to keep
it upright. I could keep going in this
form of curiosity, in exploring possibilities.
I could also keep going in the closed form of curiosity but I can see an
end to what seems worth exploring. If my
knee hurts – will I look further than the next set of joints for the
cause? What about how I am using my
spine, how I organize the weight of my torso over my knees?
A closed curiosity, an attention attached to a “fixer-upper”
agenda is just more limited. I am formed by decades of corrective care – from myself
and others. The pause to allow for open attention is to notice what I notice.
To allow for repetitions of unproductive patterns. To learn.
This is the habit of attention that is more important than exactly how I
make my movement. How can I relinquish
the driver’s seat on the quality of my movement? Because the body likes and embraces what
works better. I am my body. My attention
determines the nature of our relationship together.
Real learning, doing something that is actually new and
different than what I have done, is
situated in this kind of love – this attention in the form of open curiosity to
my state from a stance of acceptance, an embrace rather than a bracing against
what is present. What kind of love is
this, that attends to how I am?